Background of the Terai's Madhesi people

The flat southern region of Nepal - the Terai - is known as Madhes in the Nepalese language and its indigenous inhabitants are called Madhesi.

The Terai stretches from the east to the west of the country along the Nepalese-Indian border adjoining the Indian states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. It comprises nearly 17 percent of the land and the Madhesi people make up about 30 percent of the 27 million people in Nepal.

The Madhesi are predominantly Hindus with some Muslims, Buddhists and Christians.

Economically, the Terai is the most fertile and productive region of Nepal where agriculture dominates. The main agricultural products are rice, jute, sugar, mustard, tobacco, herbs and spices. Most of the agro-based industries are here. In addition, the region is rich in forestry.


Photo: Naresh Newar/IRIN
The Madhesi are predominantly Hindus with some Muslims, Buddhists and Christians.

despite the economic significance of the Madhesi people, they have felt neglected by successive Nepalese governments over education, health access, economic activities and development programmes. Many of the poorest communities survive on less than US$1 a day.

The Madhesi leaders accuse the Nepalese government of treating them as outsiders and not as part of Nepal due to their Indian roots. More than 40 percent of the Madhesi still do not have citizenship or voting rights and only 15 percent of the 330 Nepalese parliamentarians are Madhesi.

In a bid to gain the attention of the government, the pro-Terai political party, the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF), launched demonstrations on 16 January to demand greater autonomy and more representation in the government. Their demands also include citizenship for the Madhesi population.

The government has yet to decide how to respond to the demands of the Madhesi protesters. In three weeks, 19 people have been killed, mostly at the hands of the armed Nepalese police. Most of the towns and cities in the eastern Terai remain closed due to strikes, a curfew and violence.

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